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A SPEECH NOT GIVEN
By David Podvin
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am voting to
deny the confirmation of Judge Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court Of
Appeals. I do so realizing that I am addressing a symptom, rather than the
serious disease that it exposes.
The fact that a man with a record of ethnic bias has been
seriously considered by this committee means that we are dealing with a much
more profound problem than Judge Pickering’s bigotry.
There is a cancer in this chamber. It is called racism. Our
Republican colleagues are guilty of practicing it. We Democrats have frequently
been equally guilty of tolerating it. For the Senate and the country, the
continued blatant prejudice that allows for the consideration of a bigot like
Judge Pickering is a disgrace.
The Republicans on this committee have used diversionary tactics
in a desperate effort to camouflage Judge Pickering’s record of racial hatred.
They have done so because distorting the records of extremist judicial nominees
has been an effective way for them to stock the federal bench with people who
are hostile to African Americans.
Judge Pickering’s record of bigotry cannot be concealed with
sleight of hand. There is no need to focus on his entire disgraceful
segregationist history. All that an honorable person of good will needs to know
is that Pickering first supported outlawing marriage between whites and blacks,
then shortened the sentence of a
man who burned a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple.
colleagues claim that Charles Pickering’s actions are consistent with being a
good judge, which says more about them than it does about him.
It is troubling that my Democratic colleagues recoil in fear
when they are accused of calling Judge Pickering a racist. We have arrived at a
sad point in American history when there is a greater stigma attached to
accurately identifying someone as a racist than in being one.
It is even more troubling that every Senate Republican,
conservative and moderate alike, is enthusiastically and immorally willing to
support a man who has a clear record of bigotry. While vigorously supporting
him, they have deliberately smeared innocent African Americans whose only crime
is wanting a federal court system that views them as being equal.
Senators Hatch and Grassley, among others, are scapegoating
civil rights organizations for the defeat of this nominee. I ask the Republicans
to try, if only this once, to empathize with the people who have been
systematically excluded from fully participating in our democracy. Try to
understand that they do not oppose Judge Pickering’s nomination out of malice,
but in self-defense. My African American constituents have expressed concern
about having yet another federal judge who is callously indifferent to them as
They are right to be concerned. The important difference between
our nation and others is not the size of our economy, nor the strength of our
military. The special thing about America is the ideal that all people are
The record clearly shows that Judge Pickering does not accept
that ideal. He is therefore unfit to be confirmed.
No one wants to acknowledge the presence of virulent racism in
the United States Senate. The Republicans, for obvious reasons, plead ignorance.
While I understand my Democratic colleagues have a desire to maintain a pleasant
working environment, the price of that harmony must no longer be the betrayal of
Americans who are black.
African Americans are the most loyal constituency of our party.
We have an obligation to represent them, not ignore them. This vote against
Judge Pickering is a belated and encouraging step in the right direction. George
W. Bush has a legal right to send bigots to this committee for confirmation. The
Democrats on this committee have a moral obligation to send them back.
Not just this time.
We are also morally obligated to deal with an unfortunate truth
that we have been irresponsible in avoiding.
The truth is that the Republicans in the Senate have chosen as
their leader a man who belongs to a group that claims slavery was a good thing.
This travesty has gone unchallenged by our party and the media for far too long.
It is a disgrace. Worse, it is consistent with the policies that the G.O.P. is
promoting. It aligns with the refusal by the Republicans to support hate crime
legislation. It dovetails with their unwillingness to cooperate in passing laws
to prevent the voter fraud that was practiced against black citizens in Florida
and elsewhere during the last election.
There is an old tradition in the Senate of deference towards
one’s colleagues. It must now be subordinated to a new tradition of telling
the truth, even when the truth makes people uncomfortable. The truth is that the
Pickering nomination is just the most recent proof that the Republican Party
does not treat African Americans as equal citizens.
It is a tragedy that, in the twenty first century, at least half
of the United States Senate sees nothing wrong with a judge giving lenient
treatment to bigots who burn a cross on an interracial couple’s lawn. If these
Senators are truly representing the views of their constituents, then our nation
has much bigger problems than we have been willing to admit.
This nomination shows how deeply ingrained racism is in the very
fabric of our society. While there are many African Americans in our armed
forces who are currently overseas defending this country, their relatives back
home are still being subjected to racism so blatant that the president of the
United States is shamelessly appointing bigots to serve on the federal bench.
As a nation, we have preferred to ignore the bitter reality of
racism. It is time to summon the courage to deal with it. It is time to confront
those who perpetuate it.
I am confident that this statement will be met by indignant denunciations from my Republican colleagues. I am positive that they will be unable to dispute the facts. I will accept their emotional personal attacks on me as their tacit admission that I have spoken the truth.
My constituents want federal judges who are faithful to the
concept that all people are created equal. I will honor their principles and act
It is with great pride that I vote to deny confirmation to Judge
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
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